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It’s a party on the floor

From flamenco to hip hop, dancers from around the world are performing, touring and teaching in India to cater to a growing audience.

music Updated: Aug 12, 2012 01:38 IST

When Mumbai-based dance institute Arts in Motion held Dance with Joy, an annual showcase of its students’ performances, at Bandra’s St Andrew’s Auditorium on July 21, the show-stoppers were two svelte flamenco dancers from the Mediterranean island country of Malta.

Visitors from the Alegria Academia flamenco school, which helped Arts in Motion set up its flamenco classes in Mumbai, they gracefully tapped their feet to lilting music, thrilling an audience of 800. “It was beautiful,” says Payal Shivnani, 29, a dance enthusiast who was in the audience.

Dancers from Alegria Academia had previously performed in Mumbai in 2006, a time when Indian audiences were slowly getting a taste of dance shows from around the world.

Six years on, the non-classical dance scene has seen a global boom — international dancers are touring Indian cities with enthusiastic regularity, holding master classes with dance institutes across the country and performing before an increasingly informed and eager audience.

In Mumbai alone, the past five months have seen at least seven acclaimed dancers and troupes from Japan, the US and Europe perform jazz, hip hop, flamenco and contemporary dance. Last week, 25 dancers from the Utah-based Brigham Young University’s Contemporary Dance Theatre conducted intensive workshops for five dance companies in the city, concluding with a performance at the YB Chavan auditorium for an audience of 450.

Mumbai-based contemporary choreographer Sumeet Nagdev estimates that the number of international dancers coming to India has tripled over the past seven years. Over the next six months, cities across India will host at least ten international artistes and dance companies (see box), most of whom will be sponsored and hosted by the consulates of their countries.

“There is a market for dance in India that is really exciting right now,” says Akram Khan, one of Britain’s leading contemporary choreographers, who will tour six Indian cities this September.

What has opened up this market? Increased exposure to a range of global dance styles through the media, say most dancers.

“The internet is more accessible, the world is getting smaller and reality dance TV shows, both Indian and international, have very high standards,” says contemporary dancer and choreographer Terence Lewis. “Automatically, people are aware of the best and want to see good performances live.”

Adds Pune-based contemporary dancer Hrishikesh Pawar: “There is a curiosity about different genres. As a result, every month there is a festival or an exciting dance show that audiences are willing to spend on.”

For the international dancers, it is often a curiosity about traditional Indian dance that draws them to India.

“The influence of Indian dance in the UK, led by the Indian diaspora, has sparked a desire among British dancers to collaborate,” says Adam Pushkin, head of arts at British Council India, which is bringing in five British dance groups to tour India over the next seven months.

As Indian dance companies and audiences rush to embrace dance forms and artistes from around the world, however, there are some who believe that there is a downside to the trend.

“When globalisation and market forces weigh in excessively in the arts practice of a region or context, they tend to homogenise and dilute art forms and their cultural specificities,” says dance critic Devina Dutt.

British dancer Akram Khan agrees. “I am sad to discover that the Indian classical art forms are being pushed to the back of the room and the more Westernised art forms are being pushed forward,” he says.